High hopes for settlers to control more Palestinian land
On a rocky hilltop in the occupied West Bank, excited by the overwhelming electoral victory of the right, Israeli settlers are exploring a land dotted with Palestinian villages in search of new places to settle.
The November 1 election saw the rise of the extremist settler party Religious Zionism to third place in parliament, making it a potential strong partner in Benjamin Netanyahu’s forthcoming coalition. Negotiations started the day before yesterday and could last for weeks.
But for the settlers, who see themselves as “pioneers in reclaiming the land promised them by God,” there are already high hopes for budgets, buildings, and infrastructure to allow their settlements to thrive.
“Our expectations are huge,” said Daniela Weiss, an experienced settler who led the small expedition. This government is better for the Jews than for the Arabs. That’s the most important thing.” Weiss described the election result as a revolution: “As the leader of a settlement movement, that’s a victory,” said Weiss. I have no doubt that there will be an acceleration in settlement development.”
Most world powers consider settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war to be illegal under international law, and their expansion is an obstacle to peace since it comes at the expense of the land on which the Palestinians hope to build their future state.
With peace talks establishing this state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem stalled since 2014 and showing no signs of a revival, the incoming Netanyahu government is adding to the pessimism already existing on the Palestinian side.
A member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Wasel Abu Youssef, told Reuters: “There will certainly be an escalation in settlement activity, closing every horizon to any political process.”
Israel denies the illegality of the settlements, citing biblical and historical connections to the West Bank, which it calls by its biblical name “Judea and Samaria.”
“I am very happy to be back in the same places where my grandparents lived,” said Baruch Gordon of the settlement of Beit El, where religious Zionist election flags are scattered in the streets.
More than 450,000 people, making up less than 5% of Israel’s population, are Jewish settlers in the West Bank, home to some three million Palestinians who exercise limited self-government. Ideologically driven settlers in the smaller enclaves deeper in the region are a minority among the settler population, but they are nonetheless a powerful political force in Netanyahu’s Likud party.
At Bethel Yeshiva, where Gordon is Development Manager, students sang and danced on election night when the results were announced.
About 80 percent of Beit El’s votes went to “religious Zionism,” according to the Knesset Electoral Committee, and about 10 percent to the Likud party.
Netanyahu, who is on course for a record-breaking sixth term as prime minister, has allied himself with “religious Zionism” and has called for the annexation of settlements, a pledge Netanyahu made in 2020 before giving up.
And with US President Joe Biden’s administration cracking down on settlements, Netanyahu will have to carefully weigh things between his fledgling coalition and the White House.
But the settlers are not worried, and Yigal Dilmoni, chief executive officer of the main settler umbrella organization, said he expects Netanyahu to step up development work in the settlements while cracking down on Palestinian construction projects without Israeli permission.
Dilmouni described Netanyahu as a shrewd statesman capable of resolving any diplomatic dispute on the issue, adding that the annexation was only a matter of time.
“If it doesn’t happen soon, it will happen in 10 or 15 years,” he said. We are in no hurry.”
Most world powers consider settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war illegal under international law, and their expansion is an obstacle to peace.
More than 450,000 people, making up less than 5% of Israel’s population, are Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which is home to about three million Palestinians.
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